“I’ve come to test the timber of my heart”
This post was going to be entitled, “Katie’s having a sucky time in Kenya” but that seemed less than sporting and not entirely accurate as I have met some wonderful people and had some delightful experiences, so I chose differently. Needless to say though, nothing has gone the way I hoped it would so far. I have been in Kenya for 10 days and I have gotten really sick, been to a clinic, soldiered through just holding onto the excitement of going to the village only to learn that is not where I am going anymore. All plans have changed and none with my choosing or my blessing.
I had gotten pneumonia during finals this year and my cohort on this trip knew this and had already been teasing me about being fragile. The main professor on the trip even pointed out the hospital clinic when we arrived just for my benefit, and the gentle teasing continued. Needless to say, it took all of my willpower last Thursday to admit that I had spent all of Wednesday night sitting up in bed shivering, unable to breath. And so I went to the clinic, spoke with a doctor who was convinced my being cold here (it’s in the 60s) was part of the problem with my lungs, and received a weird IV through a syringe, a new experience to say the least.
Days have past and I’m still not quite better and the discussion came up as to whether I am fit to be sent to rural Kenya. It was decided for me yesterday and the answer was no. I both understand and do not understand. I have never been hospitalized or taken to the ER for asthma. This is country 16 and the first time I have gotten sick overseas. But it all comes down to liability and access to medical care. The village is far from a hospital. I was told I had a say in the decision, but I didn’t.
The hardest part for me was the delivery. I am in theology school, and while I am not on a “mission trip” I consider that the work I do is for the Kingdom of God. Here though, I am a bundle of liability and risk, just waiting to do damage. I apparently can both harm the program’s ongoing relationship with the village and ruin everyone else’s trip. I don’t deny the veracity of their concerns. This is a long-term partnership and I am one person who could get sick again and ruin everything. I just haven’t felt so powerless and worthless in quite some time.
I wanted to say, what about prayer? I have been praying for and about this place and trip for months. What about calling? There was no thought that maybe I also had gifts and graces that could serve this place, that I am more than a bundle of liability and risk. I understand that by getting sick I have shown myself to be more vulnerable, but I also believe I work within God’s hand — now I don’t work stupidly but I know myself and my health. Where is their room within God’s care to take risks? Or to at least acknowledge that living faithfully is not a mathematical equation of “God helps those who help themselves.” While this program is said to encompass both faith and health, faith has never won any discussion.
Some cannot understand my disappointment. That this is both emotionally jarring, but also spiritually. I prayed long and hard about this trip, thought about the people I would serve, thought I was called to be there. I cannot sort out which part went wrong. Being offered the platitude that God can work with changed plans is not really what I want to hear right now. I know that it is true, but first I want to explore why.
It’s interesting that I had the song “Hymn 101″ stuck in my head before I left, and the line “I’ve come to test the timber of my heart” really resonated. I don’t know what that means yet. I am very good at enduring, and that is what I am doing now — enduring pain, discomfort, confusion, disappointment, and loneliness. Testing the timber of my heart may also include knowing when to fold. But for now, it is learning how to swallow being labeled the two things I most hate being called — fragile and burdensome — and somehow I have come to feel like both very quickly.
To have it suggested that I might ruin other peoples’ trip, not carry my own weight, and damage long term relationships is a lot to take in. To already be called “sickly, fragile, and (jokingly) Typhoid Mary” just doesn’t help.
So here I am, sitting, and trying to figure out what I’ll do if I stay in Nairobi. Everything about the trip I was looking forward to is tied up in the village — rural life, continuous community, worshipping with those I live in community with, tons of children to play with, and my thesis plan. Obviously, there are children everywhere and I hope to find some to play with, but the rest is gone.
I know I have the ability to make the best of things, and I will do my best, and I totally believe that God can redeem all situations, but for now I want to mourn the summer I was so excited about. I want to complain about having to do things the hard way and everything seemingly having to include “growing edges.” I want to cry for being sick and lonely and disappointed. And then I will get up tomorrow and put one foot in front of the other and make it through another day, listening so hard for the Holy Spirit that I feel as if I have somehow misheard.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.” – Psalm 143:8